Ah, Venice. What is there to say about this storied city that hasn’t been said by some of the world’s best poets thousands of times over throughout the centuries? Well, she may not be a poet but how about having my sister, the person I trust most in her traveling tips share her top travel tips and things to do in Venice, Italy. Her and I went to Venice together years ago but she just returned from a recent trip to Italy (without me, the nerve!) and agreed to share her advice. So, without further ado, here are her Venice suggestions.
The best way I can describe it is that around every winding corner and down every twisted street is a photograph that begs to be taken. Whether it’s the ancient cobblestones crumbling beautifully into one another, window boxes tidily filled with bright flowers, hidden courtyard gardens, laundry draped carefully from lines, blowing in the breeze, arched stone bridges, or, of course, the gondolas, Venice will literally slap you in the face with its beauty and take your breath away. I can’t even tell you how many times I involuntarily asked, “Look at that! How is this real!?” to my husband.
1. Wander around the city and don’t be afraid to get lost: You WILL get lost. The sooner you accept that, the less stressful you will find it. The streets are medieval and were built with basically no order, rhyme, or reason. Lots of twists, turns, dead ends, etc. The city’s signage is confusing and haphazard at best. But don’t fret, the best times we had was when we’d let ourselves get lost and just wander. For instance, we stumbled upon a really surreal bookstore called the Libreria Acqua Alta. It’s just a huge expanse of piles and piles of books eveywhere. In an old gondola, on old vintage furniture, on the floor, on shelves, books used as steps, cats climbing and snoozing on books. Books, books, books! We never would have found it had we not allowed ourselves to simply wander. Also, we found the people we ran into to be EXTREMELY helpful/friendly. (And we don’t speak ANY Italian, so I’m sure we were kind of annoying.) We had several people walk us to our destinations. Once when we were trying to find our hotel, we asked a delivery man on the street to point the way to us. Instead of simply pointing, he put our 100 pounds of luggage on his hand cart and led the way to our hotel. He wouldn’t even accept a tip! My husband literally had to force him to take a few euros as a token of our thankfulness!!! Additionally, as Katie knows, I am THE most paranoid person on Earth, and there was not a SINGLE time when I felt unsafe/threatened, even when we had no idea where we were. That said, be smart and use your common sense/street smarts. I’m not saying bad things can’t happen!
2. Go to St. Marco Square/Rialto Bridge for no more than an hour apiece, take the obligatory pictures/buy a souvenir if you must, have a coffee/gelato, and then save yourself the stress and get the heck outta dodge. If you’re anything like me, you hate crowds of tourists and everything that goes along with that–tacky tourist traps, pick-pockets, over-priced, poor quality food, you name it! If all you do is stay in St. Marco Square/around the Rialto Bridge, you will not be get an authentic Venetian experience (Do NOT be THAT person who goes to the Hard Rock Cafe in Venice!) and you will be stressed out.
3. That said: when you do go tp St. Marco Square, you must check out St. Marco’s Basilica, The Doge’s Palace, and the Torre dell Orlogio (the clock tower). They played important roles in Venetian history and they’re famous landmarks/tourist attractions for a reason: they’re simply stunning!!
4. Let me say a word about gondolas: Taking a ride in a Venetian gondola is a bucket list item for many, many people. And for good reason. The first time I visited Venice, I was 14. I went on a gondola ride with Katie and our parents and the gondoliers serenaded us, played music, and were fabulously engaging. It was really, really cool. It’s something I’ll never forget! The second time I went to Venice, I was 22 and backpacking throughout Europe with my friend from college. I went again. It was a cool perspective of the city, but our gondolier was reserved and didn’t talk to us or sing at all. But even so, I still had a great time! That said, when my husband and I went back in March of this year, we didn’t do it. It was raining and cold for most of our visit (which, amazingly, did not dampen our enthusiasm for Venice at all), and we didn’t feel sad about not doing it. You can 100% enjoy your trip to Venice with or without the gondola ride. If you’re debating, I’d say go for it, because you don’t want to regret not doing it! Who knows when you’ll get back there, ya know?
5. If you can avoid it, DO. NOT. EAT. ANYWHERE. WITH. 20 LANGUAGES ON THE MENUS/PICTURES OF THE FOOD. These are overpriced, and mediocre at best. Instead, ask your hotel concierge where he/she eats and hightail it over there! Our concierge sent us to a local restaurant a brisk ten minute walk from the hotel. It was so mindblowingly good, we went back multiple times during our stay in Venice. Honestly, we wish we’d gone there for every meal, because no other meal in Venice even came close. The food was crazy good and fresh, plus the wine was really high quality and cheap!! Also, most of the patrons were Italian, always a good sign! If you’re curious, the establishment was called Ostaria al Vecio Pozo. My hubby and I still talk about it. But, don’t fret if you can’t find it/aren’t staying nearby. I’m sure there are hundreds of little gems you can discover! It’s worth the extra little bit of effort it takes to uncover them.
6. Stay at the Hotel Grand Canal
. I know there are literally thousands of places to stay in Venice. I know that there are famous, brand name five star hotels. But, we chose to stay at this place because it had hundreds of rave reviews online and was very fairly priced. I always get nervous about staying at “boutique” hotels, but we took a chance on it and we were so glad we did. Everything about this boutique hotel is lovely and so thoughtful. The lobby and dining room/bar have a million dollar view of the Grand Canal, and everything is modern and clean, yet it maintains its distinct Venetian charm and character. When we checked in, we were warmly welcomed like we were family or personal friends. When we told them we were newlyweds, they sent a bottle of Prosecco up to our room. Breakfast was included, which was delicious and so civilized. I cannot speak highly enough of this place. The location is perfect, and you can spend as much as you are able to, as there is a wide range of pricing/room options.
7. Take a day trip to Murano/Burano/Torcello. This was a really nice change of pace from the tourist crush that happens in many areas of Venice. We booked on Viator.com, which we use a lot to book trips/tours on our trips abroad. Your tour boat leaves from a dock near St. Marco and takes you to all three islands. We got to see a glassblowing demonstration in Murano, experience the quaint, colorful lace-making village of Burano, and walk around Torcello’s medieval church and climb the “devil’s bridge” that is older than America (I know, I know…lots of things are older than America. But, still…when we were climbing this old stone bridge I was like whaaaaaat!) Torcello was once densely populated, but now it’s almost abandoned. Our tour guide said that there are less than 20 full time residents. Hot tip: in Torcello, we bought souvenirs from a lady selling authentic Murano glass and other assorted souvenirs at a kiosk outside the medieval church. It was about 5,000% less expensive than we’d seen anywhere else. If you’ve got more time, there are a few nice looking restaurants in Torcello such as the famous Cipriani, where Ernest Hemingway apparently spent some time. I was bummed we didn’t have enough time to visit.
8. The Jewish Ghetto: This is an off-the-beaten path destination, but it was one of our favorite parts of Venice. We went on a wonderful walking tour through the museum that took us through the town square and to each of the historic synagogues and explained the role the Jewish Ghetto played in Venice’s history. Admission to the museum, which was fabulous, is also included in the price of the walking tour. There are also art galleries (we wandered into a small shop and bought an original print from a sweet man, who was the artist. He tried VERY hard to speak with us in English. He even invited us to have Shabbat dinner and celebrate with him and the community.), knick-knack shops, restaurants, and bakeries. It was an absolutely fascinating, slightly somber place to visit, and I would highly, highly recommend going for a unique perspective of this famous city.
9. Wear comfortable shoes. This kind of goes without saying in any European city, where you’re going to be doing more walking than you would in most American cities outside of New York. But, in Venice, there are NO automobiles. As a visitor, you’ll be either on foot or on a boat. And if you don’t walk as much as you can each day, you’re cheating yourself.
10. Peggy Guggenheim Collection: When Ms. Guggenheim lost her father to the Titanic tragedy, she is rumored to have carried on affairs with many of the great artists/personalities of the time. One thing is for certain, girlfriend sure amassed a TON of art in her mansion on the Grand Canal. Her modern art collection is legendary, including works from more than 200 modern artists. But, ther types are also represented in her collection.
HUGEST Thanks to my sister for guest posting here. She’s not only a travel expert but she’s absolutely brilliant! Un milione di Grazie!!!